Comedic Carolina

In a Slate piece written by Evan Smith Rackoff, a product of UNCG, we learn why North Carolina seems to be a breeding ground for comics, and the role that the School of the Arts plays in that development:

The Andy Griffith Show is not the only product of the early ’60s that has proven essential to the new wave of North Carolina comedy. In that same era, a Winston-Salem-born novelist, John Ehle, accepted a position on the staff of North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford. The two men devised a plan to create a new, publicly funded school, an arts conservatory, rooted in performance, rather than the academy, and taught by working artists. In 1963, the North Carolina School of the Arts was chartered. It’s a high school as well as an arts college, and it’s part of the 16 colleges in the UNC system. It’s one of the reasons that more North Carolina comedians have found their way out of the state in recent years, venturing away from small foothill towns and broadcasting their particular sensibilities to the wider world.

Among its graduates is the entire creative team behind Eastbound & Down, a show that, in Scott Jacobson’s words, is “North Carolina to the core.” Jody Hill would be pleased at the description, I think; he told me that when he and his fellow creators looked to the movies and television, “We really didn’t see the South we knew represented.” Kenny Powers, the central character of Eastbound & Down, is a modern-day Jack, of the Appalachian Jack Tales—which people have been retelling in North Carolina for centuries. Jack is a weak and shiftless character but clever and quick-witted. In the end he’s often taught an instructive lesson, though it doesn’t necessarily stick. This is part of the mystique of Kenny Powers. And like Griffith, Danny McBride knows not to play his character for laughs. He plays him with utter sincerity, and the laughs follow.

Hat tip to John Robinson, former editor of the Greensboro News & Record, who shared this on his excellent blog Media, Disrupted.

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